I have a miniature Schnauzer, who is 4 years old. I was married for 5 years, and my wife, my dog, and I lived together for 2 years.

But 2 years ago I got divorced, and the dog is now living with me only. Our divorce was too troubled so I decided to deny my wife the ability to see the dog. In these 2 years, I've never seen my ex-wife and I never let her see or stay with our dog.

Last week my ex-wife talked with me about seeing our dog. Since too much time has passed, I thought maybe it was time to let them meet again.

But to my surprise my dog didn't like to see her. He growled and barked at her, and didn't let her cuddle him, and fled near me. It was too strange.

When we were married, he was very close to her. He slept in her arms. But why does he behave like this now?

Can my dog ​​understand the heartache I feel about my ex-wife? Or is it only that he doesn't recognize her any more?

  • 2
    How does he behave with some you're sure I doesn't know about?
    – Cedric H.
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 15:11
  • He is well behaved, usually plays with all who come near him. So I found this all very strange behavior. He was never aggressive with anyone.
    – garcia-jj
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 15:25
  • 4
    Dogs can be very attuned to the emotions of their owners. If you are projecting an air of hostility toward your ex, it's entirely possible that your dog is picking up on it.
    – Roger
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 15:54
  • @Roger can you expand your comment into an answer so that it will stick around on the site? Comments are meant for temporary discussions and are often cleaned up/deleted.
    – Zaralynda
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 17:33
  • I have an opposite anecdote - my wife and her dog hadn't seen her ex for 5 years. Then he came to the house to visit. The dog is protective of her territory and usually barks at people at the front gate. When he came and approached the yard, she barked as usual, but when he said her name, she quieted down and just watched him.He opened the gate and she walked up to him, sniffed his hand, then started wagging her tail and rubbed up against him, then lay on her back to let him pet her belly. Maybe she just picked up on his relaxed demeanor with her, but it sure looked like she remembered him.
    – Johnny
    Commented Oct 23, 2014 at 19:57

1 Answer 1


It's been believed for a long time that dogs seem to have a way to sense their owner's emotions and react accordingly. If you have a strong dislike for your ex-wife, then the dog can pick up on that and express the same emotion. He may not actively dislike her, but he can recognize that you as the alpha are bothered, and therefore that this person represents a threat.

Doctors at the University of Portugal published an observational study in 2011 that showed, among other things, how dogs could exhibit "contagious yawning" -- yawning when their owners yawned. In humans, contagious yawning has been linked to an empathy response, and so the study writers posited that dogs are capable of empathy toward their owners, which would be a strong indication that they can read human emotions and mirror that response.

Further, earlier this year, a research group in Budapest used fMRI technology to map the way canine brains responded to vocal cues both from other dogs as well as humans, and were able to show a particular section of the brain that responded to differences in emotional tone, and that those reactions were similar across both dog sounds and human sounds. And as that particular brain region is in an analogous place to the area in a human brain responsible for interpreting emotional tone, there is strong conjecture that dogs are attuned to react to the tone of human voices in a similar way that we react to each other.

Not knowing how amiable (or not, as the case may be) your current relationship with your ex is, I can't say for certain that this is what's happening. But it is definitely possible that if there is still some strain on your interactions, that your dog is picking up on it and becoming more protective of you as a result.

  • Love it. Anyone who's been around a dog could tell you this, but the research is nice. Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 23:27

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